About this collection

rainworld archive houses one of Austria’s best collections of 19th & 20th century photographs from the Maghreb and the former Ottoman Empire. Pre-photographic visual documents complement the extensive inventory of vintage photographs. Online exhibitions on the topic of orientalism and specific photographers will  be posted here.



Wilhelm Hammerschmidt, the sphinx, mid 1860s. Albumen print.

Wilhelm Hammerschmidt, The Pyramid and the sphinx, mid 1860s. Albumen print carte de visite.

H-. Léon, the sphinx and pyramids, mid 1870s.

Albumen print cabinet card

Francis Frith, 1857, The Sphynx and the Great Pyramid, at Geezeh. Albumen print stereoview


Zangaki, 1880s, Vue génerale des Pyramides. Albumen print.

A. Bonfils, Beyrouth, 1890s, 7. Vue générale des Pyramides. Collotype

A. Bonfils, 1880s, 107. Le Caire, Pyramide de Chéfren. Albumen print.

The first photograph of the pyramids (and the sphinx) appears to be taken by French writer and amateur photographer Maxime du Camp  in 1849. It was published in 1852. A bit later Félix Teynard  made photographs in 1853/1854, which were published by Adolphe Goupil. British photographer Francis Frith  did some excellent photographs of the same subject in 1857 (publ. 1858), and then – many others followed.

In contrast to other examples of early travel photography, photographing the pyramids was not that difficult, even in the early days of the medium: good light conditions, a dry climate, and the bold structure of the motif were in favor of the then complicated photographic process with fragile glass plates and long exposure times.

The pharao Khafre  (romanized  ”Chephrên”) . Eyptian Museum, Cairo. Glass plate positive.

Chephrên was the pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty during the Old Kingdom. He built the second-largest pyramid at Giza. 

The pyramid has a subsidiary pyramid, labeled G2-a. It is not clear who was buried there. Sealings have been found of a King's eldest son of his body etc. and the Horus name of Khafre.

Egyptian Museum. Glass plate positive.

BK Paris (J.A.) Grande pyramide, du pyramide de Kheops a Gizeh. Albumen print (hold to light) stereoview

Zangaki, 1880s, No.139. Les 3 Pyramides  et le Nil. Caire. Albumen print.

The pyramid of Djoser, sometimes called the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Albumen print, 1880s.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser is an archaeological site in the Saqqara necropolis, northwest of the ruins of Memphis. The 6-tier, 4-sided structure is the earliest colossal stone building in Egypt. It was built in the 27th century BC during the Third Dynasty for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser. 

Zangaki, 1880s, No.1592. Une boef de la Nil. Albumen print.

Zangaki, 1880s, 440. Pyramide. Albumen print.

Zangaki, 1880s, 440. Pyramides. Albumen print.

Otto Gries, 1930s stereo glass plate positive.

L. Fiorillo, 1880s, 187. Les Pyramides pendant l’inondation. Albumen print.

Quite a few images show the pyramids during the Nile flood – usually with camel riders or farmers standing in the shallow water. The pyramids were built on a flood plain that suffered catastrophic inundation on a regular basis throughout history. 

The Giza Pyramids  had already attracted thousands of tourists in the 19th century. A camel ride around the Pyramids had become an essential part of the tourist program with pictures taken on camelback in front of the pyramids. This stereotype is carried on until the present.

Climbing the Great Pyramid remained an essential Egyptian experience until the mid 1960s, when the Egyptian government banned it on the grounds of safety – although pyramid climbing is still practiced illegally.


H. Arnoux, 1870s, No.609 La Grand pyramide de Chéops. Albumen print

G.M. Georgoulas, tourists on camels at the pyramids, 1928. Gelatin silver print

Being in the pyramids tourist photography business, Greek photographer G. [George/Giorgios] M. Georgoulas had the rare opportunity to photograph the delegates of the Cairo Conference (a meeting of Britains’s Middle East experts) in 1921 in front of the pyramids. One of the delegates was British archaeologist, army officer, diplomat, and writer T. E. Lawrence, better known as ”Lawrence of Arabia.” who was then working for Winston Churchill.

Photographie Artistique G.[Gabriel] Lekegian, 1880s, Climbing the pyramids. 

Albumen print.

Climbing the pyramid. Glass plate positive.

Otto Gries, 1930s stereo glass plate positive.

The Pyramids of Giza. Amateur photo, around 1930. Stereoview negative.

In front of the pyramid. Amateur photo, around 1950. Gelatin silver print.

Egypt. Viewmaster reel. 1950s

Egypt. The Pyramids and the Sphinx, 1900s relief postcard

Tourist group posing at the Pyramids and the Sphinx, 1930s real photo postcard


The Great Sphinx of Giza is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx, a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion.

The sphinx is said to date to the time of Khafre. This is supported by the proximity of the sphinx to Khafre's pyramid temple complex, and a certain resemblance (despite damage) to the facial structure seen in his statues. The Great Sphinx of Giza may have been carved out as a guardian of Khafre's pyramid, and as a symbol of royal power. It became deified during the time of the New Kingdom.

The face of the Sphinx appears to represent the pharaoh Khafre.[Chephrên]. The original shape of the Sphinx was cut from the bedrock, and has since been restored with layers of limestone blocks. It measures 73 m long from paw to tail, 20 m  high from the base to the top of the head and 19 m  wide at its rear haunches.

The Sphinx is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt. The archaeological evidence suggests that it was created by ancient Egyptians of the Old Kingdom during the reign of Khafre (c.2558–2532 BC). The circumstances surrounding the Sphinx's nose being broken off are uncertain, but close inspection suggests a deliberate act using rods or chisels.[8] Contrary to a popular myth, it was not broken off by cannonfire from Napoleon's troops during his 1798 Egyptian campaign. Its absence is in fact depicted in artwork predating Napoleon and referred to in descriptions by the 15th-century historian al-Maqrīzī.

Most early Western images were book illustrations in print form, elaborated by a professional engraver from either previous images available or some original drawing or sketch supplied by an author, and usually now lost. In 1817, the first modern archaeological dig, supervised by the Italian Giovanni Battista Caviglia, uncovered the Sphinx's chest completely. In the beginning of the year 1887, the chest, the paws, the altar, and plateau were all made visible. Flights of steps were unearthed, and finally accurate measurements were taken of the great figures. 

In 1926 the Sphinx was cleared of sand under direction of Baraize, which revealed an opening to a tunnel at floor-level at the north side of the rump. It was subsequently closed by masonry veneer and nearly forgotten. More than fifty years later, the existence of the passage was recalled by three elderly men who had worked during the clearing as basket carriers. This led to the rediscovery and excavation of the rump passage, in 1980.

c. 1910s,


Glass slide, 8.4 x 8.4cm

G. Lekegian, c. 1890s, the Sphinx;  printed later 1900s. Gelatin silver  print

Ed. Liesegang, Düsseldorf (ed.), 1910s,

8710 Wunderwerke der Baukunst. Pyramide und Sphinx

Hand-colored glass slide, 8.4 x 8.4cm

Stage design for ”La Legende du Nil“ at the Folies Bergère in Paris. Photo by Walery.

Otto Gries, 1930s stereo glass plate positive.

All images © by rainworld archive